Thursday, November 1, 2012

Book Review: Baking Cakes In Kigali by Gaile Parkin

In Baking Cakes in Kigali author Gaile Parkin takes readers into a community of locals and immigrants all of whom interact with the central character of the story, Angel Tungaraza, who is a mother, independent businesswoman and pillar-of-the-community in post genocidal Kigali, Rwanda.

The strength of this book is the moral and emotional fortitude shown by Angel and the large number of supporting characters who are all revealed through their interactions with her; the large majority being meetings with her whilst they are ordering cakes for special events in their lives. It quickly transpires that Angel is most aptly named as she provides many visitors with a friendly ear and gently pushes them towards making decisions that will improve their lives; this is a book about people, their lives and their feelings, trying to get life back to normal after the brutal, historic events of the civil war.

The dialogue in this story is gentle and easy to read and the messages contained within them are equally gentle and easy to understand, often very heartwarming but occasionally verging on cliche. Nevertheless, the interactions that provide the dialogue make this something of a feelgood book.

Like everything in life, though, there are problems. Whilst Baking Cakes in Kigali is strong on characters and positivity it is a little weak on plot. Like many books that focus on feelings and characters, the plot really only consists of a string of incidents which ultimately result in an emotional change - in this novel it is a sense of closure for the main character and her husband. This is okay but for those readers who like an intricate plot, it leaves a feeling that something is missing. This lack of a rich plot also means that characters can come and go without influencing the overall story, and Baking Cakes has too many characters that are interesting but just disappear without the reader finding out what happened to them. These issues are a shame because overall this is an enjoyable book to read.

I would recommend baking Cakes in Kigali to a variety of readers who wish to try something a little bit different as very few novels focus on female African characters, but those who like books that focus on people's feelings and choices in life will really enjoy this.

Score: 7.5/10

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